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“Look at this list,” my therapist said, as she slid it toward me.
It was a “laundry list” of traits common to adult children of alcoholics. I stared at her, wondering how the f*ck she could think that I had anything in common with this list.
“I’m pretty certain these don’t apply to me,” I said.
And the journey began.
I chose therapy because I was hurting. My marriage had fallen apart, and I had a nine-year-old son to take care of. My usual coping mechanisms of escaping, numbing, and detaching had failed. I was stuck, and uncomfortable in my own skin. Eventually, I found the courage to admit I needed help—the kind I couldn’t get from family or friends.
Going to therapy was not an admission of weakness. It was an act of bravery, and an opportunity to be vulnerable enough to face the core issues that I’d spent my life avoiding at all cost. It was the biggest challenge of my life.
To do this kind of work, we need a safe, nonjudgmental space, and that’s what a good therapist gives us.
In this space, we learn to be self-aware, and how to sit with our feelings. We allow our insecurities and shame to come to the surface where they can be processed. We learn to be vulnerable and compassionate with ourselves, and that is the key to accepting who we really are.
A skilled therapist guides us as we explore the swampy parts of our soul. We aren’t alone for the dark moments that stir up deep pain and emotions that bring us to tears. But as we acknowledge our feelings and say them out loud, we begin to accept them and heal. We become less afraid and more whole; our self-trust and self-esteem start to grow.
After a lot of hard work, my therapist and I revisited that laundry list of traits. I can chuckle now, because I’ve learned and accepted that I have just about every one of them. And that means I’ve come a long way.
It’s a beautiful process to feel ourselves heal, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
Therapy has been the cornerstone of my recovery from codependency. Here are six of the most important things I’ve learned:
1. Therapy is an investment in ourselves.
Our healing journey requires courage and consistency. It is painful and scary, and sometimes it sucks.
I committed to weekly sessions for a year and made a lot of progress. Sometimes I sobbed as I connected with childhood wounds. Sometimes my heart raced as I uncovered coping mechanisms I wasn’t aware of. But I mostly felt exhilarated and full of hope.
2. It’s a process, not a cure.
It’s hard work—a lot of small steps, and some big ones, too. But it takes time. It’s not easy to admit our flaws and face our fears. But it can also feel incredible when you break through and feel yourself grow. It just doesn’t happen overnight.
I view it as a process, not a cure. We are always growing, always evolving, and always facing new challenges and disappointments. It’s a journey without an end, and one where we can see how far down into the depths of our suffering we can go. The deeper we dive, the more joy we can experience in our lives.
3. We learn to unravel the narratives we have told ourselves.
A skilled therapist will hold us accountable for the stories we tell. As we dissect the stories that have kept us safe, we learn that many of them have only served to isolate us.
We can pretend our dysfunctional families and childhood traumas didn’t exist, but all we do is stockpile unprocessed pain. I made a life out of creating narratives that allowed me to avoid taking responsibility for my mistakes.
Our failures, mistakes, and painful experiences are part of us. Learning how to integrate them into our lives rather than deny them—owning our stories—is the key to our healing.
4. We discover our coping mechanisms, and how to overcome them.
I learned that I had anxiety. I would feel the jolt of adrenaline, my heart would jump, and there was a general sense of discomfort, but I never knew what it was. I usually felt compelled to discharge the anxiety, but I didn’t know how. I lashed out and got defensive. I threw blame around like grenades. And then I would shut down emotionally.
Once I became aware of this process on a conscious level, I could begin to work on it. I learned to take a pause rather than react—I realized that by learning to sit with uncomfortable anxious feelings, they would often dissipate on their own.
5. Therapy models a healthy relationship.
We learn to share and be vulnerable in front of another person. And to trust ourselves as we become aware of our emotions, and how to articulate them. We get comfortable sitting with our feelings and paying attention to our needs. These qualities are essential to learning how to set healthy boundaries.
All of these skills easily translate into our daily lives. We take home what we learn in therapy and get better at taking care of ourselves.
6. Therapy is badass.
Therapy is about finding the courage to face our fears and learning to be vulnerable enough to finally show up as our true selves. Challenging ourselves to go as deep into our pain as we can. Fighting through the tears as we tear open our hearts to not only feel our feelings, but accept them.
From this incredible journey comes more growth and more strength than we ever could’ve imagined.
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do.” ~ Brene Brown